Magazine article Humanities

In Focus Maggie Coval of Colorado

Magazine article Humanities

In Focus Maggie Coval of Colorado

Article excerpt

"FOR ME. THE HUMANITIES START WITH THE SHARING OF STORIES ABOUT THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE - some bit of shared history or understanding or value that can serve as a stepping-off point for a conversation," says Maggie Covai. During her thirty years at Colorado Humanities, fifteen as executive director, Covai has supported the telling of stories, and, in the process, made the state a flourishing hub of living history, with three summer Chautauqua programs that draw thousands and a Young Chautauqua program that allows elementary through high school students to study and then portray historical characters.

"It's a magical format," says Covai. This spnng, she and her colleagues were touched by an e-mail from a college senior telling them she was headed to Washington, D.C., to present research on Colorado's role in the 1 876 presidential election. The young woman credits her love of history to her experience as a Young Chautauquan. says Covai. For six years. Amelia Newport had researched and portrayed women like Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch woman who rescued Jews during World War II.

Since its 2004 merger with the nonprofit Colorado Center for the Book, the council also has tirelessly promoted the written word, hosting contests for everyone from five-year-old poets, who participate in the River of Words competition, to seasoned novelists eligible for the Colorado Book Awards, now in its twenty-first year. Io these programs, the council has added Writers in the Schools, which pays writers to do six-week residencies in classrooms, and Motheread/Fatheread Colorado, a family literacy effort.

Motheread recently received a Social Innovation Fund grant through Mile High United Way to document its success and expand, says Covai, who likes to talk about the transformational power of literacy. She tells the story of a displaced Somali woman who arrived in the United States seven years ago able to sign documents only with her thumbprint. "She went regularly to Motheread to learn to read and give meaning to stories," says Covai. "Now, we have a picture of her reading to her three-year-old, who will probably be an early reader."

Coval's love of stories dates back to childhood, when her parents used to share pictures and tales about their brief time in Colorado. The daughter of teachers and avid readers, she was born at the Fitzsimmons Army Hospital near Denver, when her father was stationed at Lowry Air Force Base, and raised in upstate New York. "I always felt like a Colorado native - like I belonged here," she says, looking out her office window, which frames a Rocky Mountain view. …

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